Making Progress as a Martial Artist

Martial Arts like any other skill requires a great deal of commitment, time, and patience to succeed and attain proficiency.  The more proficient you become, the slower your progress seems to get.  This can be extremely frustrating and demotivating.  It is popularly accepted that we are meant to continually progress and constantly reach higher levels of skill.  This is simply not true and the key to real progress is acclimating yourself – mind, body, and Spirit to the current level that you have reached before ascending to higher levels.


Reaching new levels of Performance

All fitness is about conditioning.  All proficiency is about building the neural pathways to support the execution of a skill or technique with little or no thought.  The human body adapts to the stress that you place on it so that it can handle the additional workloads in the future.  For instance, here is a well-known cycle of physical progress:

  • Exercise – place the body under physical stress
  • Recovery – the muscles, joints, cardiovascular system, etc. recovers from the previous workload
  • Adaptation – the body has now adapted in terms of functional strength, stamina and speed to endure the physical workload that it had previously underwent.

So, for each iteration in this cycle the body becomes more powerful and capable of managing greater and greater workloads.  In this model, progression is said to be linear.


Progress at each iteration?

This may be the case early in the development of a new skill, but the trend certainly does not continue as we reach more advanced levels.  It takes a lot more from our minds and bodies to perform at such high levels of intensity.  We expect to then reach even higher levels of intensity or proficiency and when this no longer occurs, we become despondent, hopeless, and demotivated.  This approach is not sustainable.

linear progress


Progress within an iteration

If you have managed to reach a new level of performance or proficiency, the next step is to keep your mind and body working at this level.  The idea is to become accustomed to performing at this new level so that this can become your new norm.  Once you are comfortable and able to perform consistently at this level, you are now ready to aim for the next level of performance or proficiency.  This form of progress is said to be cyclical.  You work to keep your mind and body working at this level until you reach a state of ease and complete conditioning.  This now sets you up for success to reach greater heights of skill. 

steady progress


Caution against under-performance

So now that you have a more sustainable approach to developing yourself in your craft, this does not mean that you need to stop working hard and pushing yourself during training.  Contrary to this, it means that now that you have achieved advancement in your skill, you need to work consistently to maintain that advancement.  This is not as easy as it sounds, especially when you are performing at levels that the human body finds hard to sustain.


Tracking your Progress

 To ensure that you stay on track, its important to have an action plan where you can focus on your goals.  You also need to take a systematic approach to tracking your progress towards these goals.  Here is a simple yet effective tool to help you through the process: 

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Final Thoughts...

An integral component of Martial Arts is self-improvement.  As practitioners, we need to create a framework for ourselves with which to improve.  This framework ought to be sustainable, else we risk injury, burnout, and other setbacks.  If we are serious about mastering a skill and improving, we should submit ourselves to the process and the time that it takes to achieve the desired results. 

“Focus on the process and not the outcome.  The outcome is a product of the process.  If the process is superior, so too shall be the outcome.”

~ Martial Devotee


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